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Movie Review – “Selma”
Review by Ray Schillaci
For all who are uninitiated, “Selma” is not just about Martin Luther King Jr, although he is a key player in its history. Just as fascinating are all the supporting players that were integral to the historical events that took place in Selma, Alabama. From the fiercely stubborn racist sheriff, Jim Clark, all the way up to a president concerned about his legacy, Lyndon B. Johnson.
The story is littered with so many interesting people; Malcolm X, J. Edgar Hoover, Governor George Wallace, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, to name just a few. It is hard to capture them all, and one could make an argument that their stories could each make a great film. But “Selma” itself is bigger than all of them as is this finely-crafted film that is filled with raw emotion that nearly sweeps you off your feet.
Opening with a humble MLK, Jr. readying to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and the next moment jarring us with a horrible act of racial violence sets an intense tone of the struggle to be non-violent, but pro-active amongst arrogance, stupidity, hate, and the unnecessary violence that can accompany the three. King has already been lauded as a peacekeeper by many, and preferred by some over his counter-part Malcolm X. But King is also not a sheep and he proves that by his visits to President Johnson.
He tries everything to appeal to the president to enforce the right to vote without all the roadblocks that most Southern states had created. President Johnson flips the scenario around on King and orders him to stand down while they tackle what he felt was a far more important issue, the subject of poverty. Johnson explains he had too many issues to address and securing the right to vote for minorities was way below on the to-do list.
After several civil rights violations, King and company target Selma, Alabama to stage a march and continue it onto the capitol, Montgomery, in hopes of grabbing the attention of the country. This not only infuriates the president, but sets off a time bomb of racial hatred. The violence that accompanies the first march is televised and it sends reverberations throughout the nation.
Several marches are attempted and throughout it all we see how the events alter so many lives, especially King’s. David Oyelowo delivers a transcending performance as Martin Luther King Jr. We not only we see the famed orator, but the man who even doubted himself at times. We get a peek into his gentle side, his quiet fury and his strength, derived by the people he surrounds himself with, including his wife, Coretta Scott King, played by Carmen Ejogo.
Ejogo underplays with wonderful nuance. She is classy, strong, and vibrant, taking on all obstacles, and one only wishes she had more screen time. But once again, the event is bigger than all of them, and director Ava DuVernay wisely focuses on how important this slice of history, this particular march for civil rights, is over all of its players.
Director DuVernay infuses the story with heartfelt drama that moves us to tears, and every so often gives us a smile or two with some light humor that just comes natural when human nature is faced with adversity. The director, her cast and crew capture the look of that period and the heart of “Selma”. They set up an intimate tone that eventually builds to a bold epic that demands to be heard. From cinematography, art direction, music, and every nuanced performance, this film captures a moment in time that rocked the nation. It moves our heart, and makes one reflect how far we’ve come…or question if we have, with recent events that have taken place. And, how unfortunate that it has not been more widely recognized by The Academy Awards.
Was it because the Academy already paid their respects to “12 Years a Slave” as some believe or that this was only the director’s third narrative feature? Was the film snubbed due to the demographic in The Academy being 94% white and 77% male, or could it be that progressives did not appreciate the portrayal of their beloved LBJ? Whatever the reasons on The Academy’s part, the snubs stir controversy and utter disappointment.
How wrongful was it of Paramount to not give this great film as much push as it did with its less impressive film, “Interstellar”? Why was a final cut of the film still not available in November? There are so many questions people have after seeing this wonderful film. But what is now being cemented in so many minds is that cinematically, “Selma” is the Best Picture of the year with or without Oscar.
Directed by: Ava Duvernay
Release Date: January 9, 2015
Run Time: 128 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures